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    Veteran observers of basketball in Louisville never thought they would see the day when another Ralph Beard or Darrell Griffith would come out of Male High School.

    But in Larry O'Bannon, the University of Louisville may have another proud son of Dear Old High School to lead the Cardinals to another national championship.

    O'Bannon doesn't have the swagger of the supremely confident Griffith, the Most Valuable Player when he led Denny Crum's Cardinals to the school's first national championship in 1980.

    Nor does he have the quickness or run-through-a-wall eagerness of Beard, a four-time All-American who led the University of Kentucky to three national championships, helped the USA to Olympic gold medals, and made first-team All-NBA. Both led Male to state titles.

    O'Bannon is something of a reluctant hero. Despite his sculpted physique, he often appeared a bit timid and was willing to let someone else lead.

    But no more. He is now a genuine three-point threat and one of the team's leading rebounders. And can he shoot free-throws. He was 10 for 11 at the foul line against West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament's Albuquerque Region final on March 26.

    O'Bannon scored 18 points to help U of L (a four-seed, remember) rush past No. 1-seed Washington 93-79 on March 24.

    But in a game in which U of L trailed West Virginia by 20 points in the first half, O'Bannon found himself scoreless and his team down 47-35 at halftime.

    Time for the new O'Bannon. No one saw him shed his glasses and don his Superman cape, but O'Bannon was a different player in the second half.

    The 6-foot-4 O'Bannon erupted for a team-high 24 points in the second half and five-minute overtime. The Cards came back from the dead to win 93-85 in a game that saw the Mountaineers connect on an astonishing 18 of 27 three-point attempts.

    Everyone knows that this is junior Francisco Garcia's team, but he was on the bench, having fouled out with the Cards trailing 72-67 with 4:02 left in regulation. Junior Taquan Dean was questionable, too, having to leave the game repeatedly with leg cramps.

    So O'Bannon, a senior, had to take charge. He started penetrating the middle of West Virginia's zone defense. He fed a pass to Juan Palacios underneath to cut U of L's deficit to just two points. And then O'Bannon somehow snaked his way through for a layup to tie the score at 77 with just 32.2 seconds left.

    In overtime, O'Bannon also scored on a jumper and Palacios put back a rebound and the Cards were up 88-83 with 1:33 left.

    The Albuquerque regional's Most Valuable Player? Who else but O'Bannon! Oh, he's the best student on the team, too.

    U of L coach Rick Pitino had to be convinced by Junior Bridgeman to recruit O'Bannon. Now Pitino is O'Bannon's biggest booster.

    Bridgeman is a former Cardinal star and new chairman of U of L's board of trustees.

    On March 29, Pitino told a pep rally crowd of 16,000 U of L fans at Fourth Street Live! that "Larry O'Bannon is the most improved player I have ever coached."

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